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'Repetitors' help ballet have all the right moves

Posted 9:02am on Thursday, Feb. 28, 2013

In the world of ballet, choreographers, star dancers and even designers get the attention, but there's an important job that is hardly ever given notice.

Bronwen Curry calls it a "repetitor," and Maiqui Mañosa calls it "stager." Essentially, they're the people, often working with one choreographer, who travel the world and work with ballet companies to make sure that the integrity of the original work remains.

Going one step further, Curry is a "choreologist," meaning that she notates the ballet in written form, using an alphabet-based system for dance vocabulary, written out along with the music, much like orchestration notes.

"You have to stay true to what the choreographer wants," says Mañosa. "Usually dancers start to put their own [spin on it]. That's one of the things I hold fast to -- I make sure it doesn't get tainted or influenced."

Mañosa and Curry are working with Texas Ballet Theater for its program this weekend at Bass Hall. Mañosa mainly stages the ballets of Val Caniparoli, whose 1995 work Lambarena TBT is doing again after having performed it in Dallas last year.

Curry has become the go-to specialist in the work of Glen Tetley, having worked with him for more than 40 years to preserve his ballets. She is working with TBT on his 1973 ballet Voluntaries, which opens this weekend's program. (Both ballets will also reappear in Dallas in May as part of TBT's SpringFest.)

British-born Curry, who currently lives in Italy, met Tetley in the 1970s, when he was at the Stuttgart Ballet and she was choreologist for the London Festival Ballet, a job for which she had to take a two-year course. He had been asked by the London company to do his earlier work Greening.

"He came to me and said, 'I don't really remember it, but I've got a video. Could you write it down for me?'" Curry says. "So he invited me to New York and then there was a period when he was in his heyday, in the late '70s and the '80s, when his ballets were done everywhere."

After Stuttgart, Tetley became the artistic director of the National Ballet of Canada. He began his career as a modern dancer, an acolyte of Martha Graham, and slowly began to incorporate more classical ballet into his work. He's now considered the first choreographer to successfully fuse classical and contemporary styles. Curry later went back through fuzzy video of Tetley's '60s works and notated them, and as a result, some have come back into the repertoire.

Because she worked for him for more than 40 years, she says, she got to know his style.

"Because steps are steps, but it's the style, the musicality, the taste, all these things that you learn," she says.

Voluntaries, which uses music of Francis Poulenc, was created as a tribute to John Cranko, the director of Stuttgart Ballet who suddenly died in 1973.

"It's uplifting, it's soaring, it's spatial," Curry says. "All his ballets were very spatial. It's poetic. It has soul for me."

Mañosa believes Voluntaries pairs well with Lambarena, although this particular combination isn't that common. Mañosa, a Filipino dancer who had become the ballet mistress for the Singapore Dance Theatre, met Caniparoli, an American, when he brought Lambarena to Singapore. Though she was starstruck by the acclaimed former principal dancer of the San Francisco Ballet, she had never seen his choreography. But there was an instant connection.

"I understood his work from the get-go; I knew exactly what he wanted," Mañosa says. "Soon thereafter, he left and went back to the U.S., and then after another year, I came back to the U.S., and he asked me to come back and stage it.... Now I've staged most of his ballets, but he has other people who do it, too. I didn't do any of his works when I was a dancer, but his movement felt so natural for me."

Lambarena fuses classical ballet and West African dance and rhythms, seamlessly melding the percussive African music with passages from J.S. Bach. Caniparoli was inspired to create it after visiting the West African country of Gabon and the hospital that was founded there by musician and missionary Albert Schweitzer, a Bach aficionado.

"It's not really African or classical, but it's a fusion and how that works is where it becomes pretty unique," Mañosa says. "What's really fascinating about Val is that he's a musician first. He was a musician and became a dancer, so his motivation and inspiration always starts with the music. What's fascinating about that kind of approach is that his ballets don't look alike. You could have an entire evening without saying who the choreographer was, with three ballets [of] Val's, and [none] would look the same. That's what I admire about him -- there's nothing that stays in the box."

This is Curry's fist time working with TBT, and she says she is impressed by the quality of the dancers and the influence of artistic director Ben Stevenson's aesthetic and work ethic. Curry remembers seeing Stevenson dance for the London Festival Ballet in the '50s.

"They're beautiful," Curry says. "You have very good dancers here. You're very lucky."

Mañosa, who staged Lambarena in Dallas last year for TBT, won't be here opening night to see the finished product, as she's off to her next staging assignment.

"We have the best jobs; it's always in the honeymoon stage," Mañosa says. "You go in as somebody new and [the dancers are] bright-eyed and bushy-tailed about what we have to say, and then just about the time to where they get familiar with us, we leave."

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